March 24, 2010

Sustainable Pest Control: Herman Miller’s Bees

I was helping Adam do a school project. He had to find all the “stuff” made in Michigan and create a brochure about it. I wanted to show him HermanMiller and expose him to some great designers like Eames and Noguchi. OK...a bit much for a 10 year old, but at least I am not drilling him with flash cards! I was hoping to show him that there are some great companies still left in Michigan. HermanMiller being one of them...well in doing so, I came across something interesting for both of us...

You have heard of Burt's Bees...well Burt doesn't really own the bees anymore. HermanMiller does...own their bees...600,000 of them! I found this cool piece about how they got rid of their wasp problem without using pesticides. They did it with a little help from their sweet loving friends. Enjoy...

March 23, 2010

Tango...Korean Style

You know, what ever Koreans set out to do, they do it with an intensity that inspires me. Whether it is baseball, figure skating, hiking...or business.

So, I have been trying to learn how to tango. Trying is the operative is a very The first challenging part is the steps...getting the steps memorized is not easy. My friends have been dancing for a few years. They seem to have the basics in tact.

Then you have to keep time with the music. OK...simple enough...then you have to improvise your memorized steps so that you do not run into anyone. Ouch! This is because there is a flow of movement on the floor...ah...I think it is counter clockwise...I think...

While trying to keep this straight, I also have to wrestle my partner who seems to know the steps better than I and is trying to lead. Sounds like marriage?

Of course, even though they are trying to are expected to be man enough to lead anyway.

Crap...I am still trying to remember my steps let alone remember how to be a man... ;-)

It seems that those passionate couples on the dance floor are not necessarily together off the dance floor...

Well, suffice to say...when it is done right...tango is simply beautiful. Two people in harmony with each other, with the music and with other dancers around them. Simply beautiful. What a metaphor...Korean style.

March 16, 2010

Freedom and Graphic Design

First Amendment: Freedom of Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly and Petition

Recently, I took a trip to Myanmar (Burma). I will have more about Burma in later posts. This post, with its video, is already way too long...

Suffice to say that Myanmar has virtually none of the freedoms we take for granted in the U.S. Many people may think this is a bore, but stick with me for a little bit...

This trailer for the movie Burma VJ should give you some idea...

I am always struck by the power of verbal, written and visual communication. These are our most powerful tools. And something that many people fear...

...They fear it in many ways. They shun expressing themselves for fear of ridicule or worse consequences. And some people fear it from those who have a mastery of communication...because people who have mastered it can lead.

Myanmar got me thinking about a project that I worked on at Meta4 Design for the McCormick Foundation. Most people I worked with on the project had mastered the art of visual communication. Others had mastered the art of verbal or written communication.

The McCormick Foundation is a legacy of the media empire (Chicago Tribune, WGN, Los Angeles Times, etc.) that was built by Colonel McCormick back in the day. To give you an idea of who Colonel McCormick was, Citizen Kane, the movie, was a fictionalized account of a newspaper tycoons such as The Colonel and William Hearst.

The Project: The Freedom Museum Web site

While attending the Institute of Design and working full time at Meta4 Design, I decided to bring “d” school design thinking methods into my work space. Meta4 Design was accustomed to designing based on intuition and client feedback. The McCormick Foundation project, however, was unique: design a Web site around the abstract concept of freedom. This was to be the nation’s first museum dedicated to the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment and was a huge investment in money and reputation for The McCormick Foundation.

The challenge required a user-centric, iterative and collaborative approach. By exposing Meta4 and the McCormick Foundation stakeholders to design thinking and flexible Institute of Design methods, our team achieved results initially thought impossible.

To get the ball rolling I first had to convince everyone that a “little bit” of research was in order...

We had a small budget and no time. Our ethnography included many different people including teenagers, teachers, parents. I even visited a prison facility to interview an inmate for an inverse perspective on freedom. All would serve as inspiration for the workshop...

...some of the best footage came later as online content...who knows how to say it better than Maya Angelou?

The video ethnography helped inspire a lively conversation which led to an enthusiastic ideation session...

The concepts developed at the workshop were great! Many of them are still relevant today, such as the mobile museum, which is now being implemented...several years later!

Some concepts where out of this world and that’s what makes for a great ideation session.

Eventually, our initial work gelled into a journey map that later became the basis for the Web site structure. [Special thanks to Michael Davis-Burchat who helped me get through this process.]

This laid the foundation for one of the most engaging museum web sites of its day...The Freedom Museum Web site. Among its awards were Communication Arts Webpick of the Week.

I want to give you an idea of how stellar the museum was. Located on the “Magnificent Mile” in the Chicago Tribune Tower, the museum held a befitting location for a destination dedicated to the First Amendment. Gallagher & Associates designed stunning exhibits set in a gleaming space anchored by a stainless steel sculpture: 12151791,. The sculpture commemorated the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The state of the art interactive exhibits by Second Story enthralled school aged children; the target audience of the museum. The Freedom Museum was truly a first of its kind...a “New-seum.”

The McCormick Foundation staff was an energetic and creative group of people whose CEO was retired Brigadier General David Grange of the 1st Infantry Division. General Grange was a Viet Nam combat veteran who was tough, fair and exhilarating to work for. He was used to getting things done under fire...literally!

However, it was not to the economic crisis hit, The Chicago Tribune Company along with the Chicago Tribune Tower were forced to sell to Sam Zell.

The new owner had other plans for the lucrative space the Freedom Museum occupied and the General was forced to close the doors in 2009...attendance had just topped 100,000. Today, most of the staff is still working for the museum which is now mobile. General Grange has moved on to other opportunities.

I forgot to mention that the museum was free of was for education not profit.

As budgets were cut, the museum could no longer afford Meta4 to design updates and maintain the complex Flash driven site. So, the original site was replaced with a simple-to-edit version. However, the inspiration, structure and content in the first web site still lives on in the aptly named Freedom Project Web we realized during the research...the online presence would out live the bricks & mortar ...

In closing, all of the effort put into this project, while very laudable, pales in comparison to the courage and sacrifice of the people responsible for Burma VJ. They still do not have a voice and so far have been fighting a losing battle...what they need are “big guns” like The McCormick Foundation, General Grange or the late Colonel McCormick on their side...

...I leave you with the full length film...90 minutes or so.
There are 9 must click t0 the next video after each part.

I hope this helps to make amends for anything I did wrong or could not was my first truly user centered design project. Now, even though I am here writing this post from Seoul, Korea, I still believe in the greatness of the freedoms that are the foundation of what America is today.

Oh! One more friends in Shanghai and Beijing cannot view this blog because it is censored in China...

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March 14, 2010

Burmese Days...Part I

Photo by Lyra Jakabhazy
Earlier this year (2010) I had a chance to visit an enchanted land...Burma. It is one of the poorest and, yet, richest country in the world. Burma, or Myanmar as it is known, is impoverished in the sense of possessions and political freedom, but very rich in the sense of humanity and authentic culture.

Once I got past the dense and dirty cities of Rangoon (Yangon) and Mandalay, I came face to face with the way the world must have been before it was shackled together with asphalt and railroad ties. Today, Rangoon and Mandalay are survive on the crumbs of civilization left over from what was once the crown jewel of the British Empire. Amazingly, the rest of Burma still holds onto what existed before the British arrived...

I was shocked by the diversity of the people...all sorts of ancient tribes and ethnic groups. Each one with their own language, customs, food, clothing and distinct physical appearance. I humbly believe that this is how the world looked before the modern era.

Burma? Myanmar? So what, you might say. Well...I am sure you have heard of George Orwell. It was Burma that made an indelible impression upon a young Englishman named Eric Blair. Eric spent a good part of his youth in Burma as an officer in the British Imperial Police. He had a promising career ahead of him, then, for some unknown reason, after 5 years, Eric abruptly turned in his uniform. A choice that would lead him to become one of the most influential literary forces of the 20th century who we know as George Orwell.

In Myanmar (Burma), there is a joke that George Orwell (“The prophet”) wrote not just one novel about the country, but three: a trilogy comprised of Burmese Days, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four according to Emma Larkin, an American author who wrote Finding George Orwell in Burma. Well...I don’t know, but it made a transformative impression upon me.

Interestingly, a new Nineteen Eighty-Four movie may be in the works thanks to Shephard Fairey...

unknown photographer
Today, I am reminded once again of the rich land of 50 million people because it is today that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been freed after having been imprisoned for 15 of the past 21 years.

Over my next few blog posts, let me try to give you a glimpse of my experience...

We did not have a solid plan when we got off the plane in Rangoon. In hindsight, I would not advise. In fact, I knew it was not a good idea when we attempted it. As soon as we hit the ground, we realized that we were going to be “trafficked” as prized possessions from person to person. Not quite hostages, but not free either. Luckily, we seemed to have guardian angels...

It was about midnight, as we hopped in a cab held together with duct tape and bondo with a guide and driver. We told the guide we wanted to go to the bus station to get to Bagan and that we needed to exchange money. Then the suspense started...he drove us too a dark alley where a dubious figure came out of the shadows with a large bag and jumped into the car. OMG! I was already swatting at the mosquitoes that I was sure were carrying malaria.

He promptly pulled out wads of old Burmese cash...of which we exchanged a few hundred dollars...we now had huge stacks of bills that looked like they were printed in the 19th century. I was figuring they were worthless...but I still held on to my faith in humanity as they drove us to the the chaos they considered a bus station. Trustingly, we followed them to a bus where we boarded. There were some unintelligible directions which I tried to follow...the main point being that we where going to Mandalay not Bagan...

Once on the bus...we were befriended by a group of university students...luckily...cuz the fun was just beginning. At about three in the morning, the bus stopped at a transfer point. Unknowingly, we had ended up in a restricted limits to foreigners! When we tried to board the second bus, the authorities guarding the bus station went ballistic and demanded our passports...of which we promptly handed over. Now we were in deep ^%#*! After about 15 minutes of yelling our current “owners” talked the authorities out of whatever fun they had in store for us and we boarded the bus.

Once on the bus, I noticed that the front seat was open. nice...leaving the front seat vacant for the foreign travelers. ;-) Then as we pulled away in the 1960’s era motor coach, I realized why the front seat was open.

In front of me were two hired men whose job it was to hold the broken windshield in place with pillows. That is because it so badly cracked that the duct tape holding it place was failing and the pillows were the only way to keep it from blowing back into the bus. Once the bus broke 60 kph, the guys started yelling because the window was caving in...and I am not talking safety glass! These where big chunks of half inch think daggers of death. Ah...thanks for leaving the front seat open... Argh!!!


March 13, 2010

Burmese Days...Part II

Well, eventually the bus commander realized that holding the windshield in place was futile. That is, after 6 hours of two men frantically pushing at the plate glass window with an old frayed pillow as we sped down the highway. So, they pried the windshield out at the nearest rest stop and we drove the rest of the way to Mandalay without a wind sheild.

As you can imagine, it got quite windy. Windy was an understatement. More like a wind tunnel with an occasional bug smacking to smack you in the face at 60 mph. ...But who could complain at $4.00 per person. Sixteen hours of exotic excitement for only 4 bucks! Really, I didn’t mind. For me it was a trip of a lifetime. I can still hear the crunching and crackling of the glass at the same time the men were yelling for the driver to slow down or the window would buckle from wind at high speeds.

FYI, I say bus commander because he was the guy in charge, but sat in the seat behind the driver like Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. His wife (Mr. Spock) sat next to him chewing beetle juice while he barked orders at the actual driver (Mr. Sulu). I think Ohura and Checkov where the ones holding the window in place with the pillows.

Once I got over my fear of flying glass, I started noticing that everywhere, people had painted their faces with a very light brown cosmetic. I guess it is called thanakha. <---Click the link if you want to learn more...
The women applied it to themselves with beauty, style and creativity...

...However, they just slapped it on their kids like sunscreen. Still, it looked quite exotic...

...Lyra thought she would give it a try. Quite


March 12, 2010

Burmese Days...Part III

We eventually made it to Mandalay thanks to our good Samaritans. They really saved our #$%^&. What we did not realize until the end of the 16 hour bus ride, was that they bus had to stop early and kick everyone off...thanks to us. The bus commander was worried that the authorities would see us if he drove all the way into Mandalay. We had to ride the last 20 minutes in the back of a tiny pickup truck commandeered by our new found friends.

Our guardians then dropped us off at a local hotel which they had arranged for in advance. Very nice...and no...they did not take a cut. I believe they were not hurting for money and were more than happy to help us out of a tight spot.

The next adventure was to be on a boat! Sixteen hours of floating down the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay to Bagan. The action was never ending...but words can barely describe it.

At one point, we stopped in the middle of nowhere...since we where already in the middle of nowhere...this was rather redundant. in the distance I could see dust being stirred by a caravan of vehicles. As time passed I assumed they were trucks moving very slowly to meet the boat.

As the vehicles approached I realized they were teams of ox carts. I must say, they were most beautiful beasts...And were definitely prized animals with very proud owners.

The ox carts lined up, and then, for several hours, laboring men off loaded bone crunching bags of cement and steel by man...

Fate would have it that I got terrible dysentery during the boat ride...needless to say things were not that sanitary. I will spare you the details...but I did not let it spoil the trip...not a chance. Compared to dragging the cement off the boat this a minor discomfort.

The foreigners, mostly segregated themselves from the rest of the locals. Not sure this was out of fear, comfort or what. Eventually, some people broke the ice, but it took effort. Maybe people just get tired of making an effort. Regardless...someone brought a guitar...and nothing breaks down barriers like a guy with a guitar.

We ended up in Bagan after night fall...So, the next day we got up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise...

...And spent all day riding bikes around the pagodas...

...until sunset.

To be continued...on to Lake Inle...then Shwedhegon.